Get Right To It: Open the Seal of Hesitation!

“He who hesitates is lost.” — Old saying, common to many cultures.

Get Right To It: Open the Seal of Hesitation!  by Laura StackWe’ve all been there, perched on the edge of a project, ready to dive in…but for some reason, we just can’t. We’re not psychologically ready.

It’s not always about procrastination or perfectionism, the dreaded Ps that often undermine Productivity…though often they contribute to the hesitation. Part of it may be fear of the future or of failure; some may be uncertainty about whether it’s the best path. Whatever the cause, the end result is that we stand frozen on the edge of a precipice, like a newbie skydiver hesitating at the hatch of the airplane. And like one of those skydivers, we may have to be pushed to get us out the door. But hey, as long as you’ve packed your chute right and keep your wits about you, you’ll survive.

Moving Right Along…

Let’s look at a few ways to get it into gear and break that seal of hesitation, assuming you’re prepared and truly ready to go.

1. Set a drop-deal deadline—with a penalty. It’s easy to get lost in the details of planning. But you can’t drag it on indefinitely, unlike the video-game maker 3D Realms, which wasted more than 12 years, millions of dollars, and all their shareholder and customer goodwill on a sequel to the popular game series Duke Nukem back in the 2000s. Their failure basically killed the company (someone else finished the game two years later). Since you want to survive, set a date for implementing your work and stick to it like glue. Let everyone know that date, and punish yourself—or have your manager do it—if you fail to meet it. Skipping dessert for a week won’t cut it; make the loss financial, like losing a bonus, or ego-damaging, like someone sending a scornful letter about how you’ve failed them and yourself. (It doesn’t have to be something everyone knows about.) Maybe next time you’ll get the lead out.

2. Prepare for all reasonable contingencies. Look at all the difficulties you’re likely to face, whether human, mechanical, industrial, or social, and make plans for them. Don’t take this too far, though, or you’ll never break that seal. And remember: no matter what you think up, Murphy’s Law will be in full effect, or someone just might find a whole new way to screw it up. We’re clever monkeys that way.

3. Be willing to handle the details on the fly. Tell yourself that once you’ve made the leap, you can deal with the details as they pop up. This is the logical thing to do, because you can’t guess the future. What if Microsoft releases a similar product on the same day? You’ll have to scramble to differentiate yours. If a weird bug shows up in beta-testing, jump on it and fix it. If your marketing department can’t sell its way out of a wet paper bag, work around them somehow. You get the drift.

4. Be ready to process the feedback. Shortly after the word go, people will start providing feedback on your project… feedback being business-speak for “criticism.” But as the cool kids say, it’s all good. Ignore the bad stuff, but take the constructive feedback and cycle it back into the project, just like you’ll handle the unexpected details of Point #3. You’ll end up with a better product or service for it—or you’ll soon know it’s time to cut your losses and go back to the drawing board.

5. Work through your emotional issues. Sometimes, the only thing stopping you from starting is because you don’t wanna. Well, how come? We’ll assume you aren’t lazy, or you wouldn’t be trying to improve your performance by reading things like this! But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a good reason for not diving in. Think deeply about why you might be hesitant to start the project. Is your subconscious telling you something that your conscious mind can’t or won’t see? Maybe there’s a flaw in your reasoning, or in the product, that you need to confront. Or could it be that you’re just sick and tired of work and can’t stand the thought of starting another project? In that case, maybe you need some time off. If these reasons don’t apply, give it more thought until you find what does. Talking it over with someone who’s unbiased might help.

Taking the Plunge

I saw a great T-shirt the other day. It read, “Humpty didn’t fall. He was pushed.”

Nothing ever works the way it’s supposed to. You might think that that’s pretty much a Captain Obvious thing to say, but sometimes in the bustle to get stuff done, it’s easy to lose track of the truisms. If you find yourself hesitating on the end of the diving board and don’t really know why, especially when the metaphorical water’s just a few feet below, take a hard look at yourself and figure it out, using the above methods. But don’t wait too long. You still need to dive in soon…lest you be pushed, like the late Mr. Dumpty.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Get Your Neurons in Gear: How to Think Faster

“Think fast!” — American saying, usually accompanied by something thrown at the recipient

Get Your Neurons in Gear: How to Think Faster by Laura Stack #ProductivityDid you know that smart people actually think faster than “regular” people do? That’s the conclusion of a 2009 twin study at UCLA that scanned specific parts of the brain using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The smarter the person, the faster the mental speed.

For me, this begs the question: does being smart make you think faster, or does thinking faster make you smarter? The jury’s still out on that, but I suspect a bit of both. Intelligence does run in families, but plenty of people without profound mental gifts have proven they can learn to think faster. Everyone wants to think faster, right? We may not end up rivaling Hawking or Einstein in terms of sheer brainpower, but we can certainly boost our baseline thinking speed.

Rising to the Challenge

We humans have a specialty—the same sense that birds fly or spiders weave webs—our ability to adapt and learn. And as with almost anything, you can hack your brainpower and speed the flow of information. How? Think fast!

1. Focus. You probably expected this one. By now, you probably realize you can be more productive when you focus tightly on one issue to the exclusion of everything else. You can’t keep it up indefinitely, but for an hour or so at a time, you can certainly home in like a laser on what matters most. When you fall into a focus trance, you boost your thinking speed. I use a regular kitchen timer and set it for 45-minute focus sessions, which really helps me get “in the zone.”

2. Take acting classes. I’ll bet you didn’t expect this one. But acting classes really do help you maintain your mental footing. I learned to think faster on my feet through improv exercises. Improv classes have helped my speaking ability in many ways: projecting confidence, maintaining poise when faced with a difficult audience member, and responding more quickly to audience questions. I’ve encouraged all three of my children to take drama classes and get used to performing in front of groups of people. Being fast on your feet will be especially helpful during challenging situations, like a sales presentation where the client is asking tough questions. If nothing else, the classes will teach you how to respond to questions in ways that give you more time to answer.

3. Exercise your memory. Although your brain isn’t a muscle, giving it a workout will help it develop it. Your brain cells will forge new connections between each other, increasing speed of access to both information and reasoning ability. You’ll find plenty of websites online to help you stretch your mental muscles, and of course, there are logic puzzles galore that will keep your neurons active. New research suggests that crossword puzzles increase language fluency, but they don’t develop your mind. If you like crosswords, try the tough British-style puzzles where you have to figure out the clues before you can even guess the words.

4. Eat dark chocolate. No kidding! Dark chocolate contains not just flavinoids and antioxidants, which provide various health benefits, it also stimulates your brain’s natural production of dopamine, which has been shown to increase learning speed and memory. Now, I’m not talking about devouring a handful of Hershey’s Kisses; they contain far too much sugar and milk. Try one of those bittersweet 70%+ chocolate bars instead. They may be pricey, but they’re worth it. Meanwhile, eating well in general will help you feel better, making it easier to think; and eating plenty of fish and fresh produce in particular will also improve brain function.

5. Learn something new…and do it repeatedly. When you learn a new task, your brain rewires itself, often with interesting consequences. Not only do you learn more, but you may also develop shortcuts between neurons containing different information. When you repeat the task, it helps burn those new pathways into your neural network. If necessary, start small and work your way up. Interestingly, dancing seems to help Alzheimer’s patients; maybe it can help you think faster while giving a business presentation as well (but not at the same time).

6. Learn a new language. This exposes you to a new way of thinking. Some linguistics and neurologists believe our native languages establish our thought patterns for life. If that’s so, then a new language—especially one radically different from your own—can really shake things up.

The Human Touch

There’s one challenge with the tips I’ve outlined above: they take a lot of time and effort. Many people don’t want to be bothered, because time’s already in such short supply. But since even the slightest increase in mental acuity will serve you well, so at the very least, develop and maintain plenty of meaningful relationships in your life.

Spending time with family and friends tends to improve your mood and clear clogged mental pathways. Talking things out with others willing to listen can help you frame your thoughts and process data, as extroverts have always known. It can also help you relax—and that’s when your subconscious mind will take over, grind through your problems, and present solutions when you least expect them.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Staying Ahead of the Game: How to Prepare for Your Next Workday

“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” –Elbert Hubbard, American writer and artist.

Staying Ahead of the Game:  How to Prepare for Your Next Workday  by Laura Stack #productivityYou might not be thinking of much more than getting home as you head out the door from work. After a long day in the office, it’s nice to get away, reboot the brain, and spend time with those you love. As the old song goes, it’s five o’clock somewhere. I totally get that! However, that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little time prior to the end of your workday preparing for the next one. It’s logical, it saves times, it’s really easy, and it will give you an edge the next day.

Here are a few quick suggestions to help get ready for tomorrow, today!

1. Get your workspace in order. As the day starts to wind down, clean up your desk. File any stray papers or receipts in their appropriate files. Put tools, pens, and notebooks where they go. Wipe off any crumbs, corral the soda cans, toss the tissues, and clean your keyboard with a quick burst of canned air.

2. Look ahead. Do you have the call-in numbers for your meetings tomorrow? Do you have the directions to any off-site locations? If you need something special, like keys to a company vehicle, make sure you have them. Check for any audiovisual equipment you’ll need, to make sure they’re obtained and in place.

3. Prepare a to-do list. Look over what didn’t get done from your task list today (paper or electronic) and move them to the new date. Check your “Tomorrow” flag in your to-do bar and move any items you know you won’t have time to complete. Once you have one list, make decisions on what’s most important and move them in your list accordingly. Block an hour or so off your schedule to work on important tasks.

4. Prepare other people. Send reminders for any meetings or calls you’re leading tomorrow, along with the agenda and reading material to trigger their minds. That way, you hopefully won’t get “I forgot” as an excuse.

5. Put your subconscious mind to work. By thinking about tomorrow’s work in advance, you’re putting your brain on notice to prepare for it. Your subconscious mind will work on any problems while you sleep. If you’re like me, you may literally dream up a solution to a problem while you’re snoozing. Having thought about your day in advance sets you up for this natural problem solving benefit.

One Step Ahead

Granted, your whole day probably won’t be ruined if you don’t prepare for it the day before. But most successes, great and small, derive from advance preparation and reviews of what’s coming next. How many times you review or how much you prepare is up to you and your personality, but at least craft your to-do list and make yourself psychologically ready in advance. It never hurts to start out just a bit ahead, so you can either finish ahead of time—or better, use the time you’ve saved for whatever unexpected things fate and your co-workers throw at you.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.